Author and attorney Michael Ventrella is one of the presenters at the 2023 Write Stuff Conference
Interview by Sara Karnish
Outside of writing, Mike worked primarily as a public defender; however, he also was a lobbyist for the liberal group Americans for Democratic Action (and later served as the Massachusetts chapter President for a year), taught political science courses at Bunker Hill Community College, and was a campaign manager for a state representative. Mike also wrote songs and performed in two prominent bands, Agent 99 and Big House, which played the major clubs in the Boston area and received airplay on local college radio.
Mike also started a magazine about animated films called Animato in the mid-80s which grew to be quite prominent. He was quoted in many publications as an animation expert, including Entertainment Weekly and in the book THE DREAM TEAM: THE RISE AND FALL OF DREAMWORKS by Daniel M. Kimmel.
In 1997, Mike and his wife, Heidi, moved to the beautiful Poconos, where Mike now works as an attorney. Heidi is a Niche award-winning artist whose work can be seen in galleries around the country and in Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museums all over the world, as well as on ABC TV’s To Tell the Truth. They love the pitter patter of little feet (they have five cats: McGonigal, Mrs. Premise, Mrs. Conclusion, Doctor Who and River Song).
Michael writes humorous adventure stories. He has five novels published so far as well as a collection of short stories. He’s edited about a dozen anthologies, including Release the Virgins!, Baker Street Irregulars (with NY Times Bestselling Author Jonathan Maberry) and Three Time Travelers Walk Into… He’s also had four nonfiction books published, including one about The Beatles, two about The Monkees, and “How to Argue the Constitution with a Conservative.”
Mike is a regular fixture at science fiction conventions on the East Coast, where he appears on panels to discuss fiction, animation, and gaming. However, to many people, he’s known primarily as the Guy Who Predicted The Hodor Plot Twist.
I sat down with Mike to discuss his work as an attorney, a writer, and how they (may or may not) overlap, and so much more.
Q: You are a lawyer as well as a writer. How do your careers inform each other?
MV: Morse code.
The advantage of having a writing skill as an attorney is that most attorneys don’t. We’re taught how to do legal research and organize a brief, but not necessarily how to make it interesting to read.
I always teach that the only real rule in writing is “Don’t be boring,” and that applies to nonfiction and legal writing as well as fiction. I’ve won quite a few cases and appeals because I understand how to write well. Judges get lots of boring briefs to read, so if you can keep their attention, you’re way ahead of other lawyers.
Q: One of your sessions for the Write Stuff Conference is called “How the Law Really Works”. I think many writers know it’s important to have a copyright for their work. Can you explain what a copyright is, and just why it’s so important?
MV: It isn’t as important as you think. If you create something, you have the copyright. You don’t need to register it. Just keep your records. I email drafts of what I am writing to myself. That way, if my computer crashes, there’s a backup in the cloud. And if anyone tries to claim my work as their own, I have dated proof that it’s mine. Once you publish it, it is automatically copyrighted.
Seriously, no one is going to steal your stuff. Even if they steal your idea, the way they present it will be completely different than how you would write it. Whether you put “copyright” on the bottom of every page won’t make a difference. It’s not like that guarantees you will win a lawsuit. Evidence that you wrote it first is more important.
If you’re sending stories off, you don’t need to say “This is copyright by me! Don’t steal it!” If an editor likes your work, they’re not going to steal it and deal with a lawsuit; they’re going to say, “This is great! Let’s buy it and get this person to write even more great stuff for us.”
However, to be clear, my lecture won’t be about copyright law, but instead will be about criminal law. So many writers will have their characters arrested or break the law, and then get the procedure completely wrong. I’ll talk about how the detectives do their job in real cases, how the lawyers get involved, and how the system works (and doesn’t work). This particular lecture will provide lots of time for questions so come prepared!
Q: You’re doing another session called “How to Impress an Editor for a Themed Anthology”. What is one of the biggest mistakes an author makes when submitting a piece for an anthology?
MV: Not reading the guidelines and sending something to the editor that the editor doesn’t want. I often get stories that are not what I’m looking for, and all that does is make me mad at you for wasting my time. No editor is going to go, “I know this anthology is for stories about wizards, but golly, this story about baseball is just so good I have to put it in the book!”
I’ll have many more examples in my presentation.
Q: Your third session is “The Biggest Mistakes Made by New Authors”. Without giving too much of your presentation away, what is the single biggest mistake made by new authors?
MV: I don’t think I can narrow it down to one. That session will be a rapid listing of many mistakes (I know, because I made lots of them myself) with the idea that most people will go “Duh, of course, I’d never do that,” but then there will be one or two points that will make them go, “Ah, I never realized that. Good point.”
The problem is that those one or two points won’t be the same for everyone.
Okay, actually, I think I will list the biggest mistake: Not reading. I can’t believe there are so many people who aspire to be writers yet don’t read a lot. You’re not going to improve your work without reading any more than a musician who never listens to music will write better songs. You will learn more about how to write by reading good books and paying attention to how the author accomplishes their goals than by any other method.
Q: What is your best advice for writers at any level?
Force yourself to write even if you’re not in the mood. You’re not going to get better without practice (and this applies to any skill) so even if what you write later gets thrown away, it’s still going to make you better in the long run.
This year’s Write Stuff Conference runs March 23-25 at the Best Western Lehigh Valley Hotel. Registration is open! www.glvwg.org